Trials of Motherhood

As more and more friends, acquaintances and family find out about our plans to return to India, they reach out to me and ask me questions. Among other questions of why we are moving, when we are moving, and where we are moving to, the one question that everyone unfailing asks is “What does S think? Is she excited?”.

When my husband and I made up our mind back in October, we decided to break the news to our 10 year old daughter. She thought we were joking at first, but then quickly realized we were serious. It took her less than a moment to start wailing in protest. She did not want to go. She would miss her friends. India was soooo hot! She hated the mosquitoes, the traffic. She called out every negative thing a 10 year old could come up with about India. After much cajoling, and explaining, a few hours later she had calmed down some. We distracted her that day by taking her on a long road trip to to my uncle’s place.

Soon after, we started our preparations, and she went about her life without much change. She told her friends, and as we told ours, they asked her what she thought – and she either said she didn’t want to go or shrugged her shoulders.

As we get closer to our move date, she is realizing that there is not much time left, that she will have to leave the only home she remembers, and leave all her friends behind. She realizes now she will have to get used to living in a much hotter place, go to a new school which insists on teaching French, and make new friends that she may or may not like. As I stood in her room, waiting to take pictures of her bedroom set, so I could put it up for sale, she spread herself across the entire width of her bed and started sobbing. This was “her bed”, in “her house”. “I don’t want to go!”, she wailed. Few days later, the same was repeated as we put garage sale stickers on some of her toys.

All of this was not unexpected, but every time it happens, it tugs hard at my heart, and wears me down. It makes me second guess our decision, and at the same time pray that it all works out in the long run. The parent in me wants my daughter to grow up and be an adaptable person, capable of making herself at home in any new place and culture. I hope she can pick up the best traits of the east and west and become an individual with a global outlook. As an adult, I hope she realizes the importance of her grandparents in her life, and loves being in touch with her large extended family. Over time I hope she can build an appreciation for the complex societal structure in India that is so often at odds, and yet somehow works.

At the end of it all, I hope she understands why we did what we did, and does not resent us for it. Until then, I will hold on to my heart and remember what a wise colleague once said to me about bringing up kids – “No matter what you do, or how hard you try, you can never quite shake off that feeling that you screwed them up!”

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The seller in me

Moving back home, or in general moving out of the US is no small logistics feat. I consider myself a fairly organized person, and after so many years of managing projects at work, this one still seems like the hardest one I’ve had.

For one, I am undoing the results of the last 12 years of reckless shopping that my husband and I have contributed to. O the things we have! I know it’s rather insensitive to complain about abundance, but when you find you have 4 or 5 of the same thing, three of which are unused, you really begin to wonder what you were thinking!!

Unlike my other work projects, there really isn’t much that I can outsource or delegate to anyone. My husband or I, and sometimes my husband and I have to look at things personally to decide which pile to put stuff in. Then, there are the times when we can’t agree if it’s worth the time to sell something, or we should just throw it out, and before we know it, we’ve already spent more time than it’s worth discussing the time it’s worth!

Growing up in a tambrahm family, I never really sold anything. My family sold an occasional vehicle, but that was it. I got my first taste for selling over the last few months, selling on craigslist and a few FB groups and distro lists. It did provide for some frustrating as well as entertaining moments.

  • $5 discount please! Oh I already bought it!
    I put up a set of kitchen appliances for sale. Desi lady calls my husband and says she is interested in cooker, asks where we live, how much it will cost. Then tells my husband she will need to ask her husband and call back. Husband conveys the same to me, so I call her offering to bring stuff half way to her place which she seems acceptable to. Then she bargains to reduce $5 out of the $15. When I refuse she points out it’s only $5. I point out its more than 30% discount she’s asking for. After finally giving in, I call her the next day asking if she’ll show up in the evening for the exchange, to which she coolly replies, she bought it elsewhere. I had fumes coming out of my ears!
  • Do you have the thing I want that you are not selling?
    I put up an ad for half a dozen kitchen items and send it the distribution list of International village apartments (could just as well be called Indian village apartments). Within 10 minutes I get a call, saying “I saw your ad. Are you selling a dosa tava?” I reply that I am not because I am using it, and that if I was, it would have been in the email. To that she asks “When will you be selling it?”!!??
  • Just checking if you’re really selling!
    I put up an ad on Craigslist, and I get all these messages – “Is it available?” or “Do you still have it?”. I respond that it is still available and ask when they can pick up, and that’s it, they vanish! It’s like they were just curious to see if I was really selling.
  • Spam!
    I advertise for a golu stand, and the people who respond have names like James and Ellen, and all of their responses say the exact same thing “I am interested in your Ad. Please contact me.”. Fishy right? I got off Sulekha after that experience.
  • GLWS
    I put up a hot item on the neighborhood FB group. Instantly get interest from a guy that says he’ll buy, but he can only come tomorrow. After dealing with #1 above, I am wary and let him know I cannot hold it for him. He gets jilted and says “GLWS, I don’t want it anymore”. I had to google GLWS – apparently it means Good luck with sale! Who knew they’d coin an abbreviation for that!
  • Bought at Target?!! No thanks!
    Tried selling some patio furniture on Craigslist. One guy goes back and forth about 10 emails in a day – How heavy are they? Did you use them? Were they outside or inside? Are there stains or not? Can you drop the price? When are you available? All answers are satisfactory, until he asks “Where did you buy them?”. “Target” I replied. “No thanks” was the response.
  • I can’t believe people still use this!
    Put an ad up for an old music system. Got an interested buyer who had moved to the US recently and didn’t have a car. So I drive 20 miles each way, and door deliver the old thing for $15. I get home and my phone rings, the buyer says I thought it would have USB, but this doesn’t even have that. I tell him I cannot drive back to pick it up, and he says “I didn’t think people would even have this kind of stuff anymore, or I would have asked!”. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry!

The hardest of them all is selling the home! It’s like trying to get your daughter married. You spruce it up, have it looking neat and bright, smelling good and well decorated. People come in and see it, then leave. Some don’t even respond with whether they like it or not. Others say “Nice home”, but don’t say why they don’t want to own it. It’s hard to fathom why nobody falls head over heals in love with the home that is like a palace to me, and the best place I’ve lived in.

All said and done, I am thankful to the people who did take things off my hands. To the others, I say – To each his own!”.

The Return of NRI Maami

I cannot believe it has been more than 5 years since I last blogged. Many friends, acquaintances and anonymous people have been asking me on and off when I would be blogging again, and after a few feeble attempts I gave up blogging. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested or didn’t have time, but suddenly I felt like there really was nothing that I had to say, that was worth reading or listening to.

So, why then have I actually returned? Well, my life is going through some pretty interesting twists and turns and I think I may finally have something to say that is probably, just probably, of interest to some souls out there.

Over the last 5 years, I have grown older, wiser, grayer and chubbier. 40 isn’t too far away, and in anticipation of the mature years ahead, my way of thinking has changed. When the typical NRI conversation came up 5 years ago about moving to India, I had a long list of reasons for why I didn’t want to do it – everything from the India we know doesn’t exist anymore to why would I want to go sweat in that kitchen making three meals a day, and brewing coffee for unannounced guests all day long. However in the last few years, many things on that list have slowly lost their place of importance to me. Seemingly solid reasons have been overturned by more important reasons that tilt the decision in favor of moving to India.

So, over the last few months, we have been making plans and working towards D-day. Yes I am not just returning to blogging, I am in the process of returning home, back to being a non-NRI.

Hot Hot Hot !!

 

When all we desis talk of missing India and being home-sick, I don’t think we really had the Indian summer in mind, but somehow may be God thought he would be nice to us and try to replicate some Indian weather here in North America and brought on us this horribly hot summer. When we’ve waited all winter for it to get warm, so we could pretend to be outdoorsy people, we are welcomed by this sweltering heat. At least the local folks here, seem to enjoy sun bathing and putting on a tan, but for us folks from the Indian subcontinent, putting on a tan makes us go from looking brown to looking like unappetizing brownies. Becoming brownie aside, there are a few other inconveniences I have to deal with. 

The grass – The heat is killing the grass. We were away for about 4 days. Once we got back, our somewhat green grass had turned brown and crunchy. You might think I am overly attached to my lawn, but if you had been in my shoes last summer, you’d understand. This leads me into a somewhat unconnected discussion, but it makes for good talking anyway, so let me explain what we did last year. It was our first summer in the new single family home. The front yard lawn suddenly start balding in patches. After some serious “nachchufying” (banter) from me, my husband looked up the internet for what we needed to do to the lawn. Somebody said we should overseed it, so he went to Menards, bought a bag of lawn seed that was on sale and spread it around. It took a good month or so, before stuff started sprouting, and boy what a mess that was. He had bought some different kind of seed. This new variety of grass, lighter green, thinner, taller grass that grew faster than the rest of the lawn started sprouting all over the place. The lawn would look good for about 8 hours immediately after mowing, but by the next morning, the bright green tall grass would be all over the place. Ugh! Walking around the neighbourhood made me want to run a bulldozer over our lawn, it looked horrible. It went from looking like a balding 40-year-old to a 40-year-old hippie. I couldn’t figure out which was better, but both were definitely bad! So this year, after having shelled out a lot of money to a landscaping company so they’d save our lawn from our experiments, I was temporarily relieved to see it nice and green before the 4 days of heat that almost killed it. Now Mr. Baldy is back 😦 

Having a 5-year-old in the house through summer is very hard. Yes, I love my daughter, but she is not easy to entertain, if you take away TV. Having to keep her in the house and postponing the time she can run out of the house because of the heat is no joke. I kind of feel bad for her though, that here she waits for warm weather, and just as it gets here, I am already telling her it’s too hard to go out.

It is kind of amusing that I crib so much about this summer, because I’ve seen a lot worse in India. I’ve lived in Hyderabad, where the heat is so bad, you’d not want to touch the walls. We’ve poured water on the terrace to cool the house down, we’ve poured water inside the house, to cool the floors down, we’ve used air coolers, and desert coolers. We’ve dealt with regular power cuts by sitting in the dark on a pile of sand outside our house and playing antakshari with the neighbours. Those were fun times, at least I learnt the first 2 lines of a 1000 songs without knowing any more than that. I’ve also dealt with the heat in Chennai. It has to be the place that disproves that famous saying “Success is 10% inspiration 90% perspiration!”. Surely, if that was true, people in Chennai must have to be the most successful in the world! It’s that place which makes you re-consider the reasons for bathing – do you really need to bathe so you can generate fresh sweat, or do you need to bathe so you can wash of old sweat?

So, when the mamas and mamis coming from India remark “Chicago romba kuloor nu sonnaa, inga vandhu partha Madrasae thevalai polarke!”, I don’t really know what to say! 😐

Happy Summer you’all!

Happy Deepavali

A very belated happy Deepavali to all you friends out there. I hope all of you had a happy and safe Deepavali. It was on a weekend this year, which certainly was very helpful in making it a happy festival. As far as safe is concerned, we had no access to all those 100-walas and 1000-walas.. or for that matter to the bijli vedis, and hence was all very safe. Of course, we were’nt being very safe with our health. Like every other festival with the exception of Vaikunta Ekadesi, we ate an unimaginable amount of unhealthy food that I am pretty sure is the reason I feel heavier this week, and the same reason my daughter is sick with an upset stomach at home.

In preparation for Deepavali this year, I took the Friday off and spent most of the day putting my stove to work. My mother-in-law had already made a 5-cup cake and Manankombu @ Mul-murukku. On Friday, I started off making the badam cake using a recipe I got off the internet. I have to admit that it really was much easier than expected, and turned out very well. Right after, I attempted making the Kaajalu. My mother made it long ago, when we lived in Hyderabad, and we relished it a lot. Of course it appeared pretty complicated to make, and the end product looked very interesting. I asked my mother for the recipe and added a few things I picked up from the internet and the end product turned out really well.

We had bought our usual new clothes, sweater and jeans for me, t-shirt and jeans for my daughter and a shirt and trousers for my husband. I ended up wearing a silk saree though that my m-i-l got me for the Grihapravesam. It was late in the night before I was done cleaning up and setting everything to be ready for Deepavali the next day. My m-i-l made the Deepavali marundhu which a strong concotion of different herbs etc that are useful to act as an antidote for all the junk you consume during Deepavali. She also made the oil for the “yennai sasthram” – basically heated some Sesame Oil with an unbroken red chilli and anise seeds (omam). The night before Deepavali, the custom in my husband’s family is to make bajjis. Of course nobody wants to change such an interesting tradition, so bajji was consumed. That night, thanks to my co-sister V, we ended up putting on some mehendi and slept with our hands tied in plastic bags all night.

In spite of wanting to wake up early in the morning, it was 7 when I woke up with a jolt. My m-i-l did the “yennai sasthram” for all of us and we did our “ganga snanam” and wore our new clothes. That was followed by calls back and forth to India and other friends and relatives living in the US. It seems there wasn’t all that much of a fuss about Deepavali crackers this year. Kids these days think about pollution and their eco-footprints. We had our friends P, Fa and their daughter S over and ate a very heavy lunch. 

In the night, we had some sparklers saved from last year’s July 4 purchases. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the long day, she told me she liked Deepavali – that made all the trouble so worthwhile!

And now for some pictures..

Happy Pigs!

With all this fear of Swine Flu going around, one is forced to hear and see a lot of information about pigs. I first saw a pig, when I was a few years old. I used to travel to school via the Kodambakkam high road and at the large dump yard which is now right across from the new Onyx dump yard, I used to see dirty pigs comfortably rolling in filth. I abhored pigs. Having seen those pigs, I wondered how people ate pork. But then, I saw this movie – “Charlotte’s web“. It’s kind of hard to not love a cute pink pig, that talks so sweetly and seems so innocent. So while I still abhor pork, I am now in a better position with respect to tolerating the pigs themselves.

Now that I have established my position on the interest in this animal, you can imagine my reaction at listening to this piece on the radio.

At the end, I was saying aloud.. “Do you guys even listen to yourselves?” This last section just drove me crazy..

“They had a spring in their step. They played in the sunlight and nuzzled each other in the mud. They made a lot of healthy noise. And Ermine was, well…delicious.”

I’ve been mulling over this for the past few days. I argued it, and counter-argued it inside my head.

Nri Maami (me):  Firstly, how can they kill an animal and eat it.

The other Nri Maami (my head): Get over it, everyone does not think like you. They have been brought up eating meat and liking it, so they tune out the history of their food, just like you tune out the fact that ice-cream puts on more weight even though it tastes good.

Nri Maami (me):  Hmm.. true, see Americans oooh and aaaw over silly things. There was a guy on Amazing race that saw cows eat out of garbage and almost started crying. How come, they don’t react that way when it comes to slaughtering the same cows and eating a cheeseburger?

The other Nri Maami (my head):  In India, I’ve seen the butcher’s shop – it would have a big chopping block with an axe stuck on it, not to mention the buzzing flies, goats or whatever it is they sold hanging from hooks dead and upside-down. If you got close enough, you could even see blood. In America, I believe most people see meat only after it has been cleaned and packed and weighed and frozen. Americans may be a sympathetic lot, but it’s because they have been so carefully shielded from all that bloodshed, do they continue to eat so much meat.

Nri Maami (me): Whatever.. How could any person describe how happy those creatures were, how they skipped  and played, and in the very next  sentence talk about how tasty they were.

The other Nri Maami (my head): If you were growing Spinach, wouldn’t you take great care planting it, watering it, protecting it etc etc.. and in the end pluck it all out and wonder if you should make Palak Paneer or Keerai Sambar?

Nri Maami:  Somehow, I cannot equate plants and animals. Yes they are both living things as we were well taught in school, yet there is a difference. Animals are higher up the list – they move and they think, so they aren’t quite the same as plants.

And so.. I continue to find an explanation that will shut at least one of the two NriMaamis up, but haven’t so far.

So, before I go on further about this and end up either converting a few of you meat-eating folks to vegetarians or I end up antagonizing the few readers I have, all I can say is

Poor happy pigs, apparently they taste better !

Penny wise pound foolish

I have been waiting for quite some time now to blog about this, but I didn’t want to jinx myself by saying something before I had my passport back in my safe hands.

Some of you might have read before (over here) about how much of a pain it was to get my tickets booked to go to India. Obviously I did not know at that time, what the “real” definition of travel-pain was. Happy to have gotten a good deal on my tickets to Bangalore from Chicago for $1100 on British Airways via London, I whiled away some time before I started working on putting together my papers for the U.K. transit visa.

So the British consulate has this esteemed opinion, that if you are an American citizen or permanent resident, or a person on a valid American visa, you can be considered safe to roam the waiting areas of Heathrow airport. However if you are one of those sorry souls, who lurk in between those two statuses, and are on your way from becoming a visa holder to a permanent resident, then somehow you are automatically not considered allowable on airport premises unless you hold this farce that is called a transit visa.

I started with googling (wow, that’s not a word yet?) the local British consulate, to see what I needed to do. After linking me to another site and another and another, I got to the site where I could start filling out my 8 page application. That used to be the first step, before getting an appointment with the UK consulate in Chicago. So, I started filling it up on weekday morning while at work. Then, it started asking me questions I had no answer for. So, I gave up, saved it and went back to work. Once my husband got me the answers to those questions, I went back to finish it. Of course, I didn’t finish it because, then they started asking me for my entire history, my families’ history, geography etc etc. So I gave up again and decided this was not something I could finish during lunch. So, I finally waited until the end of the day before I could complete answering all the questions they had for me and I clicked ‘Next’. So, it asked me to get an appointment, and gave me the option of picking a place that was much closer to home, not to get my visa, but to get my biometrics taken. Not knowing what to do, I picked the option. The next screen asked me if I wanted to mail my documents or take them over to the Chicago British consulate. Again, because that’s what we used to do, I chose the second option, and then that’s it, it gave me the links to download the application, the appointment letter for the biometrics and then said I should mail my documents to the British consulate general in Chicago. I was totally confused. So, I looked up the phone number for the British consulate in Chicago and called them. The message for those who are looking for information on visas was “go to the website”. After scanning the website from top to bottom, I found that the only number one could call to get any information was a 1-900 number that apparently went to the UK, and was charged at $3 a minute. My dear friend Fa, who was also in the same predicament as me, and who could no longer take this uncertainty, decided to make a trip to the British consulate where she was stopped by security who she confused into putting her on the phone with another guy inside the consulate. She was then told, that we needed to get our biometrics taken if the website asked us to, and drop off the application and the original passport, EAD, advance parole, photograph and itinerary at the drop-box outside the consulate. They would then process it in about 5 to 10 working days and send us an email once it was ready. We could then come back to pick it up. All originals! What were they thinking? No option now, because it was too late to cancel tickets and re-route. So we had to go through the torture.

I telecommuted one day and got my fingerprints taken. I wasted another half day driving to Chicago and dropping off my papers (they only accept them between 9 and 10 in the morning). After about 6 days, I got an email that said my visa was approved and my papers were ready to picked up any weekday between 3 and 4 p.m. Last Friday, my husband wasted 2 and half hours on I-90 trying to get into Chicago, while the clock ticked past 4 and took a U-turn back home. Yesterday, I wasted half a day taking a train to Chicago and picking up my papers. In all, I’ve lost about a day’s worth of billing at work, 86$ for the visa, and another 50 something on travel expenses etc. That money would have spared me the pain and torture of the process had I spent it on a more comfortable ticket on some other airline.

I’ve absolutely been “penny wise pound foolish” like the British say!